Addlestone Hebrew Academy has new leadership team, building plans

First- and second-graders at Addlestone Hebrew Academy sing the “Davening,” also known as morning prayer, last week. Blending secular academics with Jewish studies is key to students' success, school leaders agree. Buy this photo

When Tamar Sternfeld moved to West Ashley with her husband and three young children two years ago, one of her first phone calls was to Addlestone Hebrew Academy.

By the numbers

Percentages of Addlestone students whose parents are:

Both Jewish

65%

Interfaith

28%

Neither

7%

Other Addlestone facts

The independent Jewish day school was founded in 1956.

It remains the only Jewish day school in Charleston and draws students from all local synagogues.

Educates 137 students from 18 months through 8th grade.

Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Southern Association of Independent Schools.

She wanted their children to attend Jewish day school and receive quality Judaic teaching. She wanted to know the values of her children’s peers and teachers. She wanted to know what they would be learning.

If you go

WHAT: Addlestone’s Open House to learn more about the school and its building project. The event will feature a panel of community rabbis and well-known alumni.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Addlestone, 1639 Raoul Wallenberg Blvd., West Ashley

COST: Free

MORE INFO: Go to www.addlestone.org or call 571-1105.

And she wanted to feel part of a Jewish community that loved and nurtured her children as their own.

Sitting with a group of her son Noam’s friends at a recent school event, taking selfies with various kids to text their parents, she said Addlestone has exceeded her expectations.

“We know most of the parents at the school. We know the values the kids come home with because they are the same as ours,” Sternfeld said.

These days, her oldest helps the youngest with his Hebrew homework, and they all teach their father. Their children — ages 10, 8 and 4 — also put on performances for their grandmother based on each week’s Torah reading.

Addlestone students of all ages read the same passage each week, and all synagogues study the same one as well. It helps unite the family given they attend two different synagogues.

“It bridges that gap,” Sternfeld said. “It’s the same foundation whether you are Orthodox, Reform or Conservative.”

Since its founding in 1956, Addlestone has provided community gel for the Charleston area’s Jewish families, regardless of synagogue affiliations.

In a day when studies show potential weakening of Jewish religious identity in America, Addlestone is stepping into a future that includes a new school building and a newly reorganized, all-female leadership team.

‘Binds the community’


The private Jewish school was born under the auspices of Brith Sholom Beth Israel Congregation, the city’s Orthodox synagogue.

A decade ago, however, its leaders switched gears to welcome all comers and to collaborate more with all of the city’s rabbis (although it left matters of Jewish law to BSBI).

Today, it remains the area’s only Jewish day school. Its 137 students, ranging from 18 months to eighth grade, come from Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated families.

And while a recent Pew Research Center study showed American Jews are increasingly marrying non-Jewish spouses and are less likely to raise their children Jewish, Addlestone prides itself in unifying Charleston’s active Jewish community.

It educates Jewish children to be Jewish, the key to a future with a strong Jewish community, its leaders agree.

“It is Addlestone that really binds the community together,” said Ariela Davis, the school’s new Judaic studies coordinator (and wife of Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Davis).

The school’s mission is to teach top-notch Judaic studies alongside superior secular academics. Its middle school graduates routinely go on to attend the area’s top public and private high schools, including the Academic Magnet, School of the Arts, Porter-Gaud and Ashley Hall.

“They seek our kids,” Principal Abby Levine said. “Our kids in those schools are top. We’re giving them the tools to be independent, secure learners so that when they leave here, they are ready.”

For instance, students learn Hebrew from Day One. And with small class sizes — 11 students per class in its lower and middle school — teachers can focus on academics and still have time to nurture each child.

As a seventh-grader recently put it: “In small classes, you feel bigger.”

The goal is for students to head on to secular high schools and beyond, grounded in their Jewish identity, and in their own value.

“They feel empowered with who they are,” Davis said. “That’s what Jewish education does.”

Building forward


Soon, Addlestone will break ground on a new school building funded by the Zucker Foundation (the Zucker grandchildren are students at the school).

A new building will be constructed on the school’s current site adjacent to the Jewish Community Center in West Ashley. Construction is scheduled to begin in February and be completed in December 2015.

Architects are meeting with parents and other groups to assess interests and needs.

Addlestone may be one of the country’s oldest Jewish day schools, “but we are always looking forward,” said Phyllis Katzen, the school’s board chairwoman whose children both graduated from Addlestone. “This will have all top-notch technology.”

The JCC will use the current school building once Addlestone moves out.

And maybe one day Addlestone will add a high school. The notion sends a certain thrill over its leadership team’s expressions. But opening a new, rigorous high school would cost a great deal of money. So, first things first.

Moving forward today, Addlestone recently restructured its leadership team to switch from a pyramid-style structure to more of a team one.

In the past, Addlestone was led by a head of school and an assistant head of school.

When the previous head of school retired last spring, the school’s board chose to make the switch. It happens that the first group selected is made up of five women.

The school now has a principal, a Judaic studies coordinator and individuals to lead each of its school divisions: early childhood education, lower school and upper school.

Its first-ever, all-female leadership team includes: Levine and Davis, along with Julie Murden, early childhood coordinator; Deborah Fraley, lower school coordinator; and Nancy Peeples, middle school coordinator.

The goal is to promote better blending: of students and parents with school leaders, of Judaic and secular studies and of grade levels with one another. Students and parents have several school leaders to go to depending on their needs and concerns.

“We pride ourselves on being that school where kids don’t fall through the cracks,” Davis said.

“Because there are no cracks,” teased Lori Gleaton, admissions director.

One key goal is to blend Judaic studies with secular ones. For example, this fall the school ran a new program called “Sukkot in the Woods.” The program took place over the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, so students camped at Edisto and built a sukkah (a cloth religious tent with a bamboo roof) in the woods. All classes held during the trip blended science and Judaics.

Various staff, parents and alumni came out to help.

“It’s really meant to be a community effort to educate your child,” Levine said.

A Joyful Noise


Last Friday, with the Jewish sabbath approaching, about 50 students ages 2 years old through kindergarten filed into a classroom with a diaper station and elf-sized chairs. They arrived to celebrate a Joyful Noise.

The weekly Shabbat celebration for the school’s early childhood students blends teaching about God and the Torah with, yes, the joyful sound of so many little voices singing songs of prayer and thanks.

Shlomi Netanel and Alli Debrow, the lower school’s Judaic studies teachers, lead songs that honor God through a blend of Hebrew and English.

Netanel holds up a colorful plush version of the Torah.

“What’s inside our Torah?” he asks.

“Fluffy things!” hollers one student.

He laughs. “How did I not know that was coming? What else?”

“Letters?”

“Hebrew stories!”

“And prayers.”

“Yes!” Netanel jabs the air.

It’s a teacher’s doorway, and Netanel steps through it to share a Torah story about Jacob and God’s desire for his people to work together.

Then, it’s on to a mention of the school’s food drive, evidence of the school’s adherence to the Jewish call to service.

Students, teachers and parents in attendance then join together to sing “Yachad,” a Hebrew song whose title means “together.” The children leap up, hand in hand, and weave around the classroom dancing, their tiny voices rising up in happy unison.

It is indeed a joyful noise, one that soon will ring down the hallways of a new school building to usher in Addlestone’s future.



Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.

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